Fiction and Fantasy

Is There Such a Thing as “Good Art”?

Whether you’re a writer, painter, architect, actor, or any other kind of artist, you’re going to encounter people discussing good vs. bad art. People constantly argue over styles or what techniques work best. In college classes, they teach the proper methods for producing art and highlight some of the “great works.”

But here’s the thing: even as an English major, I didn’t find a lot of the “great” literature pieces all that great. I could appreciate the time and effort that went into creating a classic piece of literature, but I certainly didn’t enjoy it. Am I alone in this, or did you find yourself groaning when you had to look at “good” art? How many times do we need to see a man turn into a centipede in Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” or read about a hanging in Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”?

In fact, not only did I not like these “good” pieces of art… I didn’t think they were all that good to begin with.

Am I just a peasant who lacks a refined palette? I mean, I can’t rule that out. But it does get me wondering…

Is there such a thing as “good” and “bad” art? If so, what makes art “good”?

That’s exactly what we’re gonna be discussing this week.

I’m gonna start the discussion by postulating some of my thoughts about art. Check ’em out and let me know what you think. Do you agree? Disagree? How come?

I Believe There’s a Difference Between Good and Bad Art

Okay, I guess not too many people are going to dispute this one–unless you define art as only the cream of the crop stuff. And that’s fine. That’s a perfectly legitimate argument, but not one we’re going to get into today.

I do believe art quality is a spectrum, from the worst of the worst to the best of the best (and all the millions of kinds in between). However…

I Believe There’s a Difference Between “Good/Bad” Objectively and Subjectively 

Art is an inherently and irritatingly subjective topic. I might not like the two short stories mentioned above (I might find them “bad” stories), but you might love them. Does that make them “bad” art?

Well, no, not really. That’s just a matter of opinion.

This is why I believe that before you label art as good or bad, you need to establish if you’re talking subjectively (about what kind of art you enjoy) or objectively (whether the art is well-made).

Although, there are even differing opinions on the “objective” qualities of art. I mean, what is “well-made” art? What does that entail? Does it mean using only certain brands of markers or only certain kinds of paints? Does it mean using a wide variety of techniques?

I Think “Good” and “Bad” Must Refer to Quality, not Quantity

If something is bad art, it’s because it was made in ignorance. That’s what sets the two-year-old’s scribbles apart from an abstract artist’s work: ignorance of the craft, of techniques, of tools.

First Abstract Watercolor, Wassily Kandinsky

The two-year-old doesn’t know anything about color wheels or shape, form, or anything that artists study to improve their art. They have no artistic sensibilities; they just scribble. There’s no thought and, therefore, no meaning behind their art.

That’s not to say that every artistic piece has to have some story or theme behind it; on the contrary, I think some pieces can both be art and have no other purpose than to be “pretty.” Still, “to be pretty” is an intent, a purpose, a meaning. Maybe you’re coloring a picture so it looks attractive. Maybe you’re writing a story to entertain. I think those are just as legitimate “meanings” as the deep ones “artistic people” assign to their creations–at least as far as setting it closer to the “good” end of the art spectrum.

Now, a word of warning: I do believe you can take the “meaning” of art too far. This is another hallmark of what I consider to be “bad” art: art that’s made to further an agenda rather than to make the best art possible. This is basically taking the artist’s “meaning” to its extreme; the artist wants to say something but completely ignores the, well… the art part. Art used for propaganda falls into this category. Heck, I’d even put a good portion of Christian films into this category. While they may succeed at getting their “meaning” across, the art forms have been neglected: there’s not a focus on making the best poster or film possible; the art is ignored in order to exclusively push the meaning. But the meaning can’t come across well without good art, and it’s not art if the meaning overshadows all forms of the art.

I Believe Art is “Good” if it’s the Best You’ve Got

“You don’t understand! It’s awfulllll!”

I’ve seen too many people (myself included) berate themselves for not drawing as well as people who dedicate their lives to art. “I can’t draw,” they say, or “My drawings are terrible.”

Now, hold on. Your drawings may not be the same or even on par with that other artist you admire; but remember, a lot of art is subjective anyway.

I think someone is allowed to consider their art “good” if they’ve worked on it to the very best of their current ability level.

Does that mean the art is still “good” five years later when they’ve improved their craft? No, because it’s not made with their current ability level! That’s the satisfaction of redrawing (or, like in this video by DrawingWiffWaffles, watching an artist redraw) a picture that was made years before. You get to see their highest skills at one point in time and compare it to their highest skills now.

Objective skill level aside, even I can admit my drawing skills have improved with time.

And if all art had to be on the same “level” to be considered “good,” how would we possibly have different art styles at all?

I Believe Art is “Good” if it Transcends Time

Just like whether something is a “classic,” I believe art is “good” if it’s still being enjoyed and discussed long after it was produced.

That means that yes, some art can even be “good” even if it was made previously and the artist has improved since creating it. After all, if people are still talking about that original art, it means that original art had enough meaning to resonate with them–even if it may not be the best-quality stuff the artist has ever produced.

What Do You Think?

What makes art “good”? Is “good” just a useless label? What kind of art do you find “good” (objectively or subjectively)?

First Abstract Watercolor property of its respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. All other photos by me!

b! (end)

From Him, To Him


  1. I know we talked about some of those concepts in real life, but this was a great article.

    There are objective factors such as technique, production, etc. for whatever genre of art is used.

    As I've mentioned, just because something is popular doesn't make it good and vice versa.

    Maybe for me, I believe good art is honest, has a good message done in a creative way, and has a decent amount of depth. It may not be the same when it comes to music or movies, but it depends on how the art is used and created.

    I also don't like being forced to like something. It just turns me off. I do admit that I tend to gravitate towards lesser known works (which is a main impetus for my Iridium Eye blog).

  2. Popularity is a really interesting topic when it intersects with the quality of art. I think I might make a blog post just on that alone. Great point! Just because something is popular is by no means a message that "You should like this," nor is something being relatively unknown. In that respect, it's all a matter of taste. I always buck at someone trying to tell me I "should" like a certain work of art, as well!

    Honesty is a quality I didn't even think about when I was toying with the meaning/purpose of an art piece. Solid point. A meaning doesn't mean much if it's not made with honest intent.

  3. You should definitely do a blog post about popularity and how it isn't always everything. I hear ya about people saying that others should like something or not.

    Thanks. I think it's an interesting point. It also links up to the art vs. product argument. Yes, something can be both. With that being said, I have this feeling of being "lied to" when it comes to certain forms of art.

  4. I definitely experience the "lied to" feeling when I've watched documentaries or read articles with political bends. Where have you experienced that "lied to" sensation?

  5. I can relate to having that feeling when it comes to certain political articles and some documentaries. Hahaha!

    In all seriousness, a bunch of movies and anime have. EVA was one when it came to anime since it started out great, but then that movie happened. I'd even say that one copycat movie would be a huge one since I used to love it as a child, but then I researched that one 60s anime series and got really uncomfortable with some of the racism, sexism, and protagonist centered morality in that movie that it left a sour taste in my mouth. Oh yeah, Blade Runner is a huge one. It's a great looking movie, but so many things were wrong with it.

  6. I didn't think about art "lying" including art seemingly promising something it doesn't deliver on. Very interesting. It's always such a shame though. I hate seeing wasted potential!

    Those are all really great examples. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Thanks! I'm glad my views made enough sense and not coming across as a burned out film buff. Okay, I am cynical more often than not, but still…

  8. Hey, only reason you're so burned-out is because there's so much bad art you've seen, eh? Anybody would be cynical after that!

  9. No disagreements there. That or I'm more cynical of a person than I thought. Hahaha!

  10. I certainly don't think that's the case, haha!

  11. Thanks good to know. Hahaha!

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